Thought of the Day: The 12-Step Recovery for Skeptics

If you realize that your drinking and/or addiction problems begin and end with you, usually that’s a good start.

I’ve been frequently in and out of AA rooms for the last couple of weeks. It’s universally recognized that if you “work the steps”, then that will give you the best shot at long-term sobriety.

And I’m not going to lie: I’ve been lazy. And perhaps a bit skeptical.

When in rehab, I was pounding the table saying “if you take the Big Book too literally, then you would be missing the point.” (or some shit like that). In my observation, those that knew the Big Book inside and out were the ones frequently returning to rehab. They would twist the so-called “rules” to meet their needs so that they could return to using.

Perhaps that’s why so many people find the 12-step method disappointing: many interpret it as a legalistic system. As if the 12-steps THEMSELVES actually provide the power to keep you sober, and NOT the power that you give to them.

Many may not like this point. But if you’re an agnostic and skeptic like me, it’s important to understand: Alcoholics Anonymous holds no power of its own. The Big Book is not a holy text. Bill Wilson was not a prophet. AA is nothing more than a placebo effect. It takes a cultish form because of one reason: it’s effective. It’s nothing more than rituals to help you “fake it until you make it”….and that includes the 12-Steps.

If I may recall Slavoj Zizek, AA is the veil over the nothing behind it. When the veil is removed, all we see is emptiness. So it’s Veil itself that we are concerned with….it keeps us sober, even though we know that there is nothing underneath it all.

And this is the truth of everything. Our jobs, our relationships, our hobbies…they’re all meaningless until we provide them meaning. It’s the power of our own minds that we should come to appreciate. Of course, having an external system of rituals and beliefs are extraordinary helpful in providing meaning.

Hence, we get AA which goes through painstaking lengths TO NOT associate itself with any outside political or religious organizations because that will only distract from its main intention: TO KEEP US SOBER.

That’s it.

So what many might have thought was an attack on AA…this is actually a defense and clarification thereof. If you wish to make a counterpoint and say “actually AA means different things to different people”, then you are only making MY point.

AA is the canvas. The mind is the painter. By the way, the same goes for the Big Book.

The 12-steps therefore, in their very literal form, are bullshit tasks that won’t ACTUALLY make you sober. Only you have the power to make that happen. But that’s okay!

Take a look at your own life. How much meaningless bullshit do you go through each day? Even shit that you enjoy doing? Making your bed? Is that really necessary? Hanging up pictures of your family? Don’t you already know what they look like?

None of those things are necessary, but we do them because they provide some degree of order in our lives. The bed doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be made in a certain way. You don’t necessarily have to stop at that certain Starbucks each morning. But you do. And the 12-steps are the same principle, they provide a preset order to our sobriety.

That statement might piss some people off. That’s cool, be pissed off.

But the truth is that the order is arbitrary. Some steps are absolutely unnecessary. A sponsor, although extraordinary helpful, is also unnecessary if someone truly wants sobriety. Finding a “higher power” remains a contentious and questionable step (therefore also throwing into question the necessity of steps 3, 6 and 7). I’m not going to wait until step 9 to make amends, especially when amends need to be made sooner than that. So I should only wait until step 11 to start meditating? Does this “spiritual awakening” happen ONLY on step 12?

So if we look at the 12 Steps literally, none of it makes sense. But I’m going to do them anyway.


Because I need order. I WANT sobriety. I don’t care if I have to “fake it until I make it”. I know that it’s all nonsense designed to get us into AA rooms so that we can meet other addicts to help us through our struggle. That’s what makes it so fun. It’s no different than the rituals we performed in high school before the big game. THAT’S WHAT BOUND US TOGETHER.

And this is why, I believe, most use the word ‘cult’ as a pejorative to describe AA. But they’re missing the point. Does AA utilize cult-like tactics? Yes. But there’s a reason for that: they work. And like all things that work, they can be used for good and evil. Military training also deploys cult-like tactics to enhance unit cohesion. It’s all done in the name of re-organizing yourself, so that we can maintain long-term sobriety.

But the power still rests in your hands. Which why each meeting ends with chanting “keep coming back because it works IF YOU WORK IT.”

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